Imagining a more inclusive and optimistic world of work

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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Randstad’s Flexibility@Work takes a look at past and current trends to help prepare for a better future

It has been more than a year since COVID-19 shattered the world order as we knew it. Since then, we all have been confronted by uncertainty, anxiety and isolation. At the same time, we’re more resilient, innovative and cohesive despite global restrictions. All of these dynamics are unfolding quickly in the world of work, where employers have redefined their workplace, workers have adjusted to new ways of doing their jobs, and families have learned to live and work in the same environment. 

But where do we go from here? There have been no precedents to follow, at least not in the digital economy. It seems every day we are redefining work, and this unprecedented pace of change can be disorienting, if not alarming. Digital transformation is occurring more quickly now than before. Working from home appears to be a permanent arrangement for many. How we define work and the careers we want to have are also getting a fresh look. These trends will have long-term implications for our businesses and the global economy at large. 

There are many challenges as we look ahead, and some of the answers can be best found by examining the past trends that brought us here. That was the intent of Randstad’s 2021 Flexibility@Work, a new report that closely looks at how the world of work has been shaped by a convergence of forces never seen before...and what to expect in the months and years ahead. This year’s edition follows the evolution of workplace flexibility, how automation is shifting which skills are in demand and the growing importance of inclusive labour practices, as well as many other current developments and topics.

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To help accelerate recovery, we need to address the challenges head on. Last year, economies around the world admirably rallied to adapt to great uncertainty by enacting safety protocols, sharing knowledge and focusing on the reskilling and redeployment of workers. This collective effort must continue in our recovery efforts as we turn the corner in the battle against COVID-19. The health crisis may end soon, but the structural damage to the global economy may linger, especially for emerging markets. 

So how do private and public sector leaders mitigate the impact from the pandemic? How can they usher in a new age of prosperity, not just for highly skilled workers and industrialised nations, but for everyone around the world? There are some critical considerations. 

Create decent and sustainable jobs. There is a profound need for forward-thinking and progressive policies to form and sustain a more equitable job market into the future. Helping industries to embrace clean energy, reskilling large portions of the workforce and nurturing a more efficient labour market should be at the forefront of policy discussions around the world. By helping people become more marketable and connected to prospective employers, we can create prosperity shared by all. To achieve such a goal, we will need industry to collaborate with governments and labour groups more closely. 

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Expand workforce inclusion. As the International Labour Organization has reported, women’s labour force participation in 2019 was just 47%, compared with 74% for men. This may be surprising for many in industrialised markets, where the gap is considerably smaller. Even so, the world of work is far from achieving parity—not only for gender but also ethnicity, age and sexual orientation. Data have shown a clear business case for greater workforce diversity. Improving diversity is essential for organisational resilience, economic growth and social stability. This past year has resulted in greater awareness around social justice, so it’s a good time to consider how this applies to the workplace. 

Leverage technology to augment people power. Too often technology is portrayed as a force competing with humans, as if they were in a race for dominance. When we view artificial intelligence and automation simply as a threat to jobs, then we miss the bigger picture. There will be, of course, workers displaced from the growing use of technology, but the overall impact is a net gain in jobs. We need to better assimilate tools into the work we do, not only to achieve gains in productivity but also to enhance experiences, such as in recruitment. 

The world is at an important crossroads as a result of the pandemic. The displacement of millions of workers around the world, the acceleration in technology adoption, and structural changes in the labour market present significant challenges and opportunities. In the months ahead, we will need to make hard choices about the investments required to secure a prosperous and sustainable future—investments around reskilling, technology and the new workplace. 

Just as we have done to overcome the health crisis—sharing knowledge and collaborating on a cure—making sure millions are not left out of an evolving labour market requires all stakeholders to work toward a common good. Together, we can ensure a more inclusive and optimistic future of work. You can read more by requesting our 2021 Flexibility@Work report.

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Future of Work Future of Education & Skills

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Jacques van den Broek

CEO and Chair of the Executive Board, Randstad

Jacques van den Broek is the CEO and Chair of the Executive Board of Randstad, the global leader in HR services industry. After graduating in law, Jacques held a management position with an international trading company until he joined Randstad as a branch manager. Appointments followed as Regional Director in the Netherlands and, subsequently, as Marketing Director Randstad Europe. In 2002, he moved to Capac Inhouse Services as Managing Director, also taking on responsibility for Randstad in Denmark and Switzerland. Jacques van den Broek is responsible for France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal, as well as Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay). In addition, he is responsible for Business Concept Development and Public Affairs.